“Casey Jones (I)”

Author: Original text by Wallis/Wallace/Wash Saunders/Sanders (?); "Official" text copyrighted 1909 by Newton & Siebert
Earliest date: 1909 (copyright)
Keywords: death train wreck
Found in: US(Ap,MA,SE,So,SW)

Description

Casey Jones's train is late with the mail. He is pushing the train as fast as he can when he sees another train ahead. There is no time to stop. Casey tells his fireman to jump; he himself dies in the wreck

Notes

John Luther Jones was brought up in Cayce, Kentucky (hence his nickname).

Joe Hill (pseud. for Joseph Hilstrom) wrote a parody of this song, entitled "Casey Jones the Union Scab," based on the Southern Pacific strike of 1911. -PJS

This piece shows the power of song: Mrs. Jones, who died in 1958 at the age of 92, spent half a century disclaiming the accusations of infidelity in the song. Fireman Simeon Webb lasted almost as long, dying in 1957 at age 83.

In reading Laws's notes to "Casey Jones" and "Joseph Mica" [Laws I16], it seems clear to me that there is no true distinction between the ballads. Laws files the more complete forms here, and the fragments and related pieces under "Joseph Mica." How does one decide which pieces to put where? I'm really not sure.

To make matters worse, Laws has garbled the entry and the information about Lomax and Sandburg. I did the best I could, but one should check "Joseph Mica" for additional versions.

Cohen offers a reasonable explanation for this: There was an existing train song, possibly "Jay Gould's Daughter," which Saunders adapted to apply to Casey Jones -- but it was a blues ballad, without a strong plot. The 1909 version converted this to a true ballad -- but, fragments being what they are, it's not really possible to distinguish the two.

Cohen also lists several alternate nominees for the title of the "original" Casey Jones.

Laws distinguishes "Jay Gould's Daughter" as a separate song (dI25); I think this distinction hopeless; it is just another worn down version, and should be filed with "Joseph Mica." - RBW

It should be noted that Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones" is a fragmentary stream-of-consciousness incorporating a single verse from "Casey Jones" and many floating verses, including a couple from "On the Road Again". - PJS

Cohen (whose main text is the Lewis version) notes that Lewis recorded the song ten times, with none of the texts being entirely the same. - RBW

Historical references

Same tune

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Laws G1, "Casey Jones"
  2. Cohen-LSRail, pp. 132-157, "Casey Jones" (4 fairly complete texts plus many tunes an the cover from the 1909 sheet music, 1 tune)
  3. BrownII 216, "Casey Jones" (1 text plus mention of 1 more)
  4. Hudson 87, pp. 214-215, "Casey Jones" (1 text, quite dissimilar to the popular version, focusing on the bad conditions and Casey's heroism)
  5. Friedman, p. 309, "Casey Jones" (7 texts, mostly fragmentary)
  6. Sandburg, pp. 366-368, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Lomax-FSUSA 75, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Lomax-FSNA 301, "Casey Jones" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  9. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 34-36, "Nachul-Born Easman" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 249-250, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 106-109, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. JHJohnson, pp. 90-92, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
  13. Courlander-NFM, pp. 185-186, "(Casey Jones)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. LPound-ABS, 59, pp. 133, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
  15. JHCox 48, "Mack McDonald" (1 text, clearly "Casey Jones" even though the engineer's name has been changed)
  16. Darling-NAS, pp. 209-213, "Casey Jones"; "Casey Jones"; "Kassie Jones" (3 text, with the first two being here"Joseph Mica" and the third being the full "Kassie Jones" text of Furry Lewis)
  17. Geller-Famous, pp. 231-234, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
  18. Fuld-WFM, p. 165+, "Casey Jones"
  19. DT 633, CASEJONE
  20. Roud #3247
  21. BI, LG01